by Dr. La Tanya Hines
While the goal is for every baby to be born healthy and at full term, the reality is premature birth, also known as preterm birth, is the number one obstetric problem and the number one cause of death for newborns in the United States. Defined medically as childbirth occurring earlier than 37 completed weeks of gestation, preterm birth affects 1 in 8 babies born in the United States.
Premature babies have a higher incidence of lifelong health and developmental challenges, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss. Given the potential grave consequences of prematurity, there is a pressing need to identify patients at increased risk to help physicians prepare for a potential preterm birth.
Experts have identified certain factors that put some women at increased risk for delivering early. They include women who have had a previous preterm birth, women who are pregnant with multiples and women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities. FullTerm™, The Fetal Fibronectin Test is an FDA-approved, noninvasive test that provides high-risk women and their physicians with valuable information about the likelihood of premature birth.
The test can be performed in a doctor's office (similar to a Pap smear test) and measures the amount of fetal fibronectin -- the "glue" that holds the baby in the womb-in the vagina. There are no side effects to either mom or baby, and the test can be repeated every two weeks until 35 weeks of pregnancy. During weeks 22 to 35, fetal fibronectin should be almost undetectable.
If the test is negative, a woman has a 99 percent chance of not delivering in the next 14 days. This means women can avoid over treatment with drugs and other medical interventions such as bed rest or hospital admission. Additionally, the reassurance of a negative test result allows women to continue their normal routines, such as working, traveling, caring for other children and socializing with friends and family.
A positive result is the single strongest independent predictor of preterm birth at less than 32 weeks. Narrowing the delivery window can help doctors better manage pregnancies and work to keep babies in the womb as long as possible. Doctors may prescribe treatments like bed rest, drugs or corticosteroids. Every extra day in the womb helps a baby's organs grow. Women for whom preterm birth is inevitable benefit from the early warning, which allows them to travel closer to a hospital with specialized services for premature babies.
Women interested in additional information on FullTerm, The Fetal Fibronectin Test are invited to visit www.fullterm.net to learn more.
Dr. La Tanya Hines is an OB/GYN at Girlfriends Medical Group in Pasadena, California.
Copyright © La Tanya Hines. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.